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We're still in the title hunt, says Christian; MOTORSPORT: Red Bull chief insists that tearaway Button can be overhauled.

CHRISTIAN HORNER has refuted suggestions that the 2009 Formula 1 title chase is all-but over barely half-way into the campaign - insisting that Red Bull Racing will be 'pushing very, very hard' to close the gap on runaway world championship leaders Brawn GP and that 'it's never over until it's mathematically gone.' Arriving at Silverstone for this tomorrow's British Grand Prix, home hero Jenson Button has built up a 32-point margin in the drivers' standings over his nearest non-Brawn rival, Red Bull's Sebastian Vettel.

The German, though, has inarguably been one of the stars of the opening seven races of the year, setting pole position in both Shanghai and Istanbul, notching up three rostrum finishes and storming to RBR's breakthrough victory in the top flight at its 75th attempt when he led team-mate Mark Webber to the chequered flag in a crushing and memorable one-two in the Chinese Grand Prix in April.

"It meant a huge amount," said Horner, Leamingtonborn team principal of the energy drink-backed squad's maiden triumph, "because the amount of effort and commitment that has gone in from the whole team - not just over the last six months, but over the last couple of years - has been immense.

"To see it come good in such a spectacular way with a one-two finish was great for Red Bull. Obviously it's great to get the first win out of the way, but we then quickly focussed on trying to win more races - and it's amazing how your goals and expectations move.

"I think we've had a strong start to the year; certainly compared with twelve months ago we've had an excellent run. We've had six podiums in seven races, we've achieved our first win and we've had two pole positions.

"Obviously we're the only team to have broken the Brawn domination, and there's also a feeling that we could have really challenged them had circumstances worked out in Bahrain and Barcelona.

"I think it's been a really positive first half of the year, and we've got some exciting developments in the pipeline and we'll keep pushing, because basically we need to score four points more per race than Brawn to catch them in the constructors' championship. That is a big task, but it is not insurmountable." There have already been occasions, indeed, when Red Bull has appeared to have the beating of the ex-Honda F1 outfit, only for the latter to pull something extra out of the bag just when Vettel and Webber have looked to be within striking distance.

The Turkish Grand Prix last time out was just such a case in point, after Vettel surrendered his pole position advantage with an opening lap error, and thereafter an audacious three-stop tactic failed to pay off - but Horner is adamant that strategy is not a weak link in RBR's armou r y.

"It was obvious in the first few laps in Istanbul that Jenson was quicker," the Englishman contended, "so you either concede and accept second place or you try something different..

"We could see in-turn that we were a lot quicker than the rest of the field, so at the point when we decided to adopt the three-stop strategy, it at least put Jenson under some pressure. It was absolutely the right thing to have a go at. Who knows, Jenson could have made a mistake under the pressure, there could have been a safety car - and we would have been in a position either way to take advantage of that." There were some paddock murmurings in the wake of the Turkish Grand Prix that the relationship between young gun Vettel and old hand Webber - a driver still searching for his first win in the top flight after more than 100 starts - is not what it might be, and that some tension is developing between the two.

It is a suggestion that Horner quickly brushes off, arguing that whilst the pair are at 'different stages of their careers', they are 'professional, push each other very hard and work well together', and stressing that 'there's total transparency and equality of treatment'.

There is also the general perception that though Red Bull has ably proven the pace and potential of its Adrian Newey-designed, Renault-powered RB5 in the wet - witness its dominant Shanghai form - it still has some questions to answer in dry conditions. Horner is optimistic that - with continued development - the team will be able to take Brawn on come rain or shine over the second half of the year, and that there is no frustration involved... 'just a determination to catch them and ultimately beat them.' "We'll take a win whichever way it comes," said the 35-yearold, a former racer himself. "I think the challenge in the wet is almost bigger than in the dry, and we qualified on pole in Shanghai in the dry, so I think the result in the race would have been the same in the dry as it was in the rain. The bottom line is we have to take them on in whatever the conditions are.

"They've had circuits where their car has been very strong - certainly in the last two events in Monaco and Istanbul, on race day they were unstoppable - but I think at other races, as in China, we've been very, very tight with them on pace and could have beaten them.

"The guys in Milton Keynes are working tremendously hard, and they've done a great job in terms of development; there's a lot of focus obviously on aerodynamics and a few other bits and pieces for the RB5.

"It's going to be a big challenge to take the Brawns on, and Silverstone is an important race; it's their home race and it's obviously the local race to us as well, and we're going to be trying very hard. I think we can be competitive there. Brawn are going to be very difficult to beat, but we will do our best to achieve it.

"It's never over until it's mathematically gone, so it would be very defeatist to say 'no, they've won it'. We will keep pushing and fighting until there is no mathematical chance to win, but we're only just arriving at the halfway point of the year and they've had a tremendous run.

"They'll probably have a bit of bad luck at some point, and we've just got to make sure that we're there to capitalise."

CAPTION(S):

TAKING FLIGHT... Sebastian Vettel set yesterday's practice pace at Silverstone. Inset, team boss Christian Horner and technical chief Adrian Newey
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Publication:Coventry Evening Telegraph (England)
Date:Jun 20, 2009
Words:1089
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